in Claverings

Chapter 43 – Lady Ongar’s Revenge

short halcyon days

Trollope uses this phrase to describe the state of peace and happiness in which young lovers like Harry Clavering and Florence Burton live.  The word “halcyon,” which means “calm” or “restful,” comes from an ancient myth about a woman named Alcyone, whose beloved husband Ceyx was killed in a shipwreck.  Ceyx comes to Alcyone in a dream to tell her that he has died, and the next morning Alcyone goes to the shore and discovers that his drowned body has floated there.  Overcome with grief, she throws herself towards the sea, but at the last moment she is transformed into a bird and skims along the surface.  Ceyx’s body is also changed into a bird, and the two are reunited.  The days on which Alcyone broods are the calmest days of the sea, according to the story, hence the modern meaning of the word, which is employed here.  [SH 2012]

Source:  OED.
Ovid, Metamorphoses 11.410-748.


Constance Vane

Julia mentions Constance Vane to Harry as a type of a fashionable English girl not particular appealing to either of them, though neither says so explicitly.  Though Trollope does not tell us much about Constance, he tells us enough to realize that her name is partly ironic and partly fitting.  Her first name, “Constance,” is related to the Latin participle constans, meaning “standing firm” or even “remaining unchanged.”  But Constance has not been constant in her looks:  she has changed from “a waxen doll of a girl” to a “stout mother of two or three children.”  Her maiden name, “Vane,” recalls the Latin adjective vanus, meaning “empty” and is apt, since Trollope asserts that “she had never had a thought in her head, and hardly ever a word on her lips.”  By giving her this name, Trollope adds linguistic depth to an otherwise insubstantial character.  [RR 2013]



“Pandemonium” is a Classically based coinage used by John Milton as a name for the capital of hell in Paradise LostPan is Greek for “all,” and demon is Greek for “demon” or “spirit.”  The suffix is Latinate.  When Julia mentions pandemonium, she is aware of the word’s Miltonic heritage because she contrasts Harry’s current “paradise” (his relationship with Florence) and the “pandemonium” he has avoided with her.  [RR 2013]

Source:  OED.


Nil conscire sibi

Julia quotes this Latin phrase from one of Horace’s Epistles to Harry; it means “to be conscious of no guilt.”  According to Julia, Harry taught her this phrase when they were young lovers.  She has not lived her life in a way “to be conscious of no guilt,” and since Harry has betrayed Florence, neither has he.  Julia is explicitly applying the phrase to herself, but she also implicitly applies it to Harry.  She essentially re-teaches Harry, with a piercing commentary on his own behavior, the very phrase (and the ideal it expresses) which he taught her.  Harry, who taught both Julia and Florence bits of Latin, has now been turned into the student.  Julia humbles him with this switch of roles, teaching him his own lesson in turn.  [SH & RR 2012]

Source:  Horace, Epistle 1.1.61.


I have not poisoned the little ring, as the ladies would have done some centuries since

Julia Ongar makes this statement of the ring which she wishes Harry to pass on to Florence as a gift.  The “ladies…some centuries since” likely refers to Medea, the mythological woman who aided Jason in his quest for the golden fleece.  However, Jason abandoned Medea in order to marry the daughter of Creon, the king of Corinth.  Medea gives Creon’s daughter a dress as a wedding gift, but the dress is poisoned and catches fire when the girl wears it, killing both her and Creon as he tries to save her.  As Harry Clavering’s former lover who has been ultimately rejected for a new wife, Julia Ongar could consider herself in the position of Medea.  The possibility for cruel vengeance would be lost neither on Harry nor on Julia.  However, Julia wants to make it known to both Harry and Florence that, unlike Medea, she bears no ill will and poses no threat to her former lover’s new bride.  [SH & RR 2012]

Source:  OCD.